Christ the Lord. A Study in the Purpose and Theology of Luke-Acts

Written by E. Franklin Reviewed By I. Howard Marshall

Since the publication of H. Conzelmann’s book on The Theology of St Luke (1960), all subsequent study of Luke has had to reckon with Luke as a theologian and with the particular interpretation of his theology advanced by Conzelmann. If there is general agreement that Luke must be regarded as a theologian of great significance, there is much less agreement regarding the character of his theology. Eric Franklin belongs in the general group of those who have been stimulated by Conzelmann but find it necessary to correct his work at several points. In particular, where Conzelmann claimed that the delay of the parousia led to Luke virtually abandoning the hope of its coming and replacing eschatology by salvation-history, Franklin argues that Luke still looked forward to the parousia within the lifetime of his contemporaries but reinterpreted the church’s eschatology rather than abandoned it. This point is established by exegesis of the eschatological material in Luke and offers a necessary correction to Conzelmann.

Franklin’s distinctive contribution is to draw attention to the ascension of Jesus as the centre of Luke’s thought. He argues that for Luke the meaning of history is not determined by the parousia but by the ascension which is itself ‘the complete eschatological event’ determining the whole of salvation history before and after it. By the ascension Jesus is established as the living Lord, active in the life of the church and summoning people to decision. The significance of the ascension can be seen in the amount of space devoted to it and the fact that it is narrated twice, as the climax to the Gospel and as the prelude to Acts.

This basic thesis leads to a study of Luke’s picture of Jesus in order to show that Jesus is capable of bearing the value judgment placed upon him by the ascension. Luke refers to Jesus as Kyrios, ‘Lord’, to indicate the nature of the commitment which must be made to him and which is confirmed by his ascension and exaltation. Of particular interest is the claim that Luke uses a ‘servant’ christology fairly extensively to show how Jesus went along the path of suffering to glory. Franklin sees the cross in Luke as a step on the way to the exaltation, and it is in virtue of the latter that Jesus is a Saviour.

But if this was the status of Jesus, why did the Jews reject him? Franklin takes up at length the question of the Jews in Luke, seeing in their failure to accept Jesus the second of the major crises which led to Luke’s work. Here he develops the view that Luke’s attitude to Israel was more positive than is often thought to be the case. Thus Luke speaks positively of the OT law, which still remains in force (Lk. 16:17f.), and also of the temple, which should have been understood as a pointer to Jesus rather than as an end in itself. It is true that the Jews rejected Jesus and the blame for his death lies upon the Jews who sought his death. It is also true that the Jews rejected the preaching of the church, but there were some who responded. God’s purpose, however, was to reconstitute Israel, with the inclusion of the Gentiles, and it should have been a short step from acceptance of Judaism to acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah. Even at the end of Acts Jesus is still the ‘hope of Israel’.

From the topic of Israel the author’s thought moves naturally to the place of the Gentiles in Luke’s thought. He argues that the story in Acts was intended by Luke ‘to witness to his assertion that in Jesus the prophetic expectations were fulfilled and that God’s final promises to the Jewish people, and through them to the nations, were being realized’ (p. 134). Acts thus provides the proof that the ascended Jesus was still active. Franklin argues that Luke’s primary aim was not to show the universalistic implications of the gospel; rather the universal presentation of the message plays a supporting role in expounding the Lordship of Jesus.

For Luke the mission of the church was virtually complete. Hence Luke’s appeal to Christians is not so much to proclaim the gospel as rather to wait expectantly for the near return of their Lord, centring their hopes on the otherworldly sphere and not getting attached to this world. This leads to a discussion of the Christian way of life as seen by Luke; Christians form the community of the end time and their main aim must be to avoid succumbing to temptation by means of steadfastness and prayer.

A final chapter pictures ‘Luke the Evangelist’ as a pastor with strong links to Judaism, probably as a God-fearer rather than a proselyte. He could have been a colleague of Paul, although his theology differs from his at certain points. Above all he is ‘a pastoral theologian of the first order’ (p. 184) who has a message for today: ‘Since he did not expect the world to continue, he did not give an answer that could be ours completely, but he does point the way to an approach which can use salvation history as the means of coming to a real existential encounter with the living Lord and which also sees that that encounter has some significance for the continuing life of the disciple in the world’ (p. 185).

Whether or not this book is based on a PhD thesis, it is certainly of that quality as a distinctive contribution to an area in which it is by no means easy to produce an original piece of research. The author’s work is sane and balanced, and rests on a good acquaintance with recent literature, although it must be admitted that it is staggering to find no mention of H. Schürmann at any point. In general the author’s arguments are persuasive, although there are points where he fails to convince. Thus, despite the importance attached by Luke to the ascension, it is doubtful whether it has quite the pivotal significance that Franklin attaches to it; he overplays the importance of the two descriptions of it, the first of which is remarkably brief and lacking in content. One may also wonder whether Luke expected that the parousia would necessarily occur in the lifetime of his contemporaries; here the view of E. E. Ellis in his commentary on 9:27 and 21:32 is more probable. Again, it may be questioned whether Luke deprives the cross of all saving significance: such a view requires acceptance of the shorter text of the Last Supper despite the strong reasons for preferring the longer text (Lk. 22:19f.), and perhaps forces Luke’s thought into over-consistency.

Other points of criticism could be adduced, but these should not obscure the virtues of a book which adopts a very positive view of Luke and his theological achievement. It may not reckon Luke’s historical accuracy as highly as a more conservative author might wish to do but it certainly inclines to a conservative rather than a radical verdict on this score. On the whole, this is a fine introduction to the thought of Luke, and it is assured of a high place among recent studies of Luke not only for its content but also for its clear and attractive manner of presentation.

I. Howard Marshall

I. Howard Marshall
University of Aberdeen
Aberdeen, Scotland, UK